Thursday, April 26, 2012

The first video phone call

An advert for the Bell Picturphone
According to the blog Skype Numerology Skype estimates it has approximately 124 million users, though it admits not all of these are active. I use Skype (and Apple's FaceTime) to talk with colleagues, students I'm supervising and of course to keep in touch with friends and family. You might be surprised to find out that the first public transcontinental video phone call was made in April 1964. Bell had placed their new Picturephones in booths at the New York World Fair and in Disneyland California. Members of the public in New York and California could see and speak to each and long lines rapidly grew at each location.
    A commercial service started in June 1964 from calling booths in three cities: New York, Washington, D.C. and Chicago - but the service failed to excite.  Customers needed to schedule their calls in advance and it was very expensive. A 3-minute video call from New York to Washington cost $16, about $120 in today's money. Despite slashing prices the following year the service failed to take off and the plug was pulled in 1968. So next time you skype appreciate how convenient and cheap video calling has become.

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